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Lancaster OEM plans, prepares for storm

BY: Jennifer Lysiak, Lancaster Editor | November 01, 2012

LANCASTER- A destructive force, Hurricane Sandy hit the US east coast with strong winds and rain causing electrical blackouts, fires, and flooding for several days.

In Erie County, offices of emergency centers prepared and planned for Mother Nature’s worst and were ready to take action if they were needed.

Town of Lancaster Disaster Coordinator CD 122 for the Office of Emergency Management (OEM) Robert MacPeek said he was notified Friday, Oct. 26 by the National Weather Service and FEMA reports of Hurricane Sandy’s potential presence. It was then the next step had to be taken which lead to alerting first responders of what was and could possibly occur in the area.

Throughout the weekend, MacPeek, along with some OEM team members, monitored the weather and when Monday came the storm got worse and the hurricane grew closer. This resulted in MacPeek meeting with the highway department and the park and recreation department in the event the storm took trees down and how they were going to handle it and if flooding occurred, etc.

“I was out in the middle of the night on Monday,” said MacPeek, in a Tuesday morning interview. “I was concerned about the rain. I thought it was going to be a lot worse than what it was.”

“So far, we have been very lucky,” he added. “There have been only a few flooded basements and we haven’t had any major power failures.”

Also, to prepare for the storm, the Erie County Department of Emergency Services works closely with the entire emergency services community in Erie County. On Monday evening and Tuesday afternoon conference calls with various town and village OEM officials were held.

The calls between the entities serve as a way to see if any additional assistance is needed, the current state of their individual towns, and what the future may hold. As of Tuesday some of the area towns and villages reported, there were some minor power outages, a couple of trees down, and creeks in the area that have yet to flood, but were being closely watched.

“This really, truly does work as a team effort,” said Emergency Services Coordinator of Erie County the Civil Defense/Disaster Preparedness Division Jim Glass.

By Tuesday, Hurricane Sandy was no longer a hurricane instead it had degraded to a "post-tropical" superstorm, however, MacPeek still had to check the creeks water levels every few hours.

He reported during the conference that Cayuga Creek, which runs through the town, was looking good and it already crested. Some water came up over the banks in a couple of spots, which is normal whenever the town experiences heavy rains. Whether Ellicott Creek will cause flooding in the surrounding area couldn’t be determined at that point in time.

MacPeek remarked that the Ransom Road, Pavement Road, Town Line Road, and Stony Road bridges all have painted markings, allowing him to see how fast the water rises. He also uses different landmarks such as fire hydrants to determine the level of the water.

“We physically measure the water and over past experiences we know how long it takes for the water to reach certain levels,” remarked MacPeek “If we see that the water is rising an inch per hour, for instance, then we know it’s going to take so many hours to get up to flooding conditions in different areas.”

Glass said during the conference call that the National Weather Service stated the winds have subsided and the rain, temperatures will be in the 50’s and down in the 40’s later in the week, so they don’t expect any major flooding problems.

“We’re still going to get some rain,” said MacPeek. “There is still some backwash on this, but I don’t think it is going to be anything major. Mother Nature is just preparing us for the big one.”

Glass mentioned that there were less than 1,000 people county wide without power, a problem that was resolved on Tuesday. They are also flying six water rescue teams down to the Long Island area for a 72-hour deployment.

If the storm had gotten worse and intensify, MacPeek said the town would have called a state of emergency. Preparing for that possibly MacPeek had printed out forms requesting assistance from the state and county just in case and maps on the walls to record road closures, trees down, or any flooding.

If the Ellicott Creek water level were to continue to rise, where it would affect the residents in the Bowmansville area, the OEM team will be activated and they will monitor it, said MacPeek. Residents would be asked to evacuate and a shelter, in which they are in partnership with the American Red Cross, would be setup.

“The bottom line on this, in my opinion is yes, it is a dangerous storm and we were extremely lucky that when the storm came onto shore and got into the mountain areas it started breaking up,” said MacPeek. “We were able to test our resources out of this and make sure that everything was working and I am hoping that people, themselves have taken this as a learning experience and used it as a test for their preparedness.”

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